Saint of the Day – 9 January – St Peter of Sebaste (c 340-c 391) Bishop of Sebaste in Lesser Armenia. Born in c 340 in Caesarea, Cappadocia and died in 391 in Sebaste, Lesser Armenia, of natural causes. He was the younger brother of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, the famous Christian Hermit Naucratius and Macrina the Younger, all Saints. He is also known as Peter of Sebasteia, as well as a close friend and colleague of St Gregory of Nazianzen, another Doctor of the Church.
Any sibling who has ever idolised their older siblings, followed in their footsteps, or felt himself living in their shadow, can certainly relate to Peter of Sebaste, who was the youngest child of a true theological powerhouse of a family.
Peter lived in the second half of the fourth century and was born around the year 340. He was the youngest of ten children and lost his father in his cradle, some think before he was born. His older siblings were two of the Cappadocian Fathers—Basil of Caesarea, that is St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa—and the great female monk and desert mother, St Macrina the Younger. Macrina took the young Peter under her spiritual wing and trained him in the religious life of asceticism.
Peter was a brilliant young student and, after a childhood spent studying the liberal arts, he turned all of his intellectual strength towards theological studies, focusing particularly on studying the Sacred Scriptures.
Basil was appointed the Bishop of Caesarea in 370 and, shortly after, ordained his younger brother, Peter, as a Priest. Soon after ordaining Peter, Basil took him into his Episcopal court as an advisor and confidante. Peter withdrew soon after from court and became, like Macrina, a solitary ascetic.
Peter helped Macrina and their mother start a monastic community of women and started a monastery community of men as well but, unfortunately, he was forced back into the public square when he was appointed the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia.
As Bishop, Peter’s activities were not well-recorded but in his life and Episcopal administration, he displayed the same characteristics as Basil. Linked together in the closest manner with his brothers, he followed their writings with the greatest interest. At his advice Gregory of Nyssa wrote his great work, Against Eunomius, in defence of Basil’s similarly named book answering the polemical work of Eunomius. It was also at his desire, that Gregory wrote the Treatise on the Work of the Six Days, to defend Basil’s similar treatise against false interpretations and to complete it. Another work of Gregory’s, On the Endowment of Man, was also written at Peter’s suggestion and sent to the latter with an appropriate preface as an Easter gift in 397.
“A letter, which St Peter wrote and which is prefixed to St Gregory of Nyssa’s books against Eunomius, has entitled him to a rank among the ecclesiastical writers and is a standing proof, that though he had confined himself to sacred studies, yet by good conversation and reading and by the dint of genius and an excellent understanding, he was inferior to none but his incomparable brother Basil and his colleague and friend, St Gregory of Nazianzen, in solid eloquence.
In 381, he attended the general council held at Constantinople and joined the other Bishops in condemning the Macedonian heretics. Not only his brother, St Gregory of Nyssa but also Theodoret and all antiquity, bear testimony to his extraordinary sanctity, prudence and zeal. ” (From the life of his sister St Macrina, composed by their brother St Gregory of Nyssa).
His death happened in summer, about the year 391 and his brother of Nyssa mentions, that his memory was honoured at Sebaste (probably the very year after his death) by an anniversary solemnity, with several martyrs of that city. His name occurs in the Roman Martyrology, on the 9th of January.